Bolton managed to throw away a two-goal cushion in the last 15 minutes against Reading after putting together a Jekyll and Hyde performance at the Macron. Two goals in the first half from Reece Burke and Darren Pratley put Wanderers in the driving seat but a lacklustre second half display gifted the opposition a route back into the game which they took with both hands, ruining a great chance for the Whites to climb out of the relegation zone.
Wanderers lined up with Burke being the only change to the side, coming for the Birthday Boy, Mark Beevers, who was suspended. News before the game of knocks picked up by full-backs Antonee Robinson and Mark Little had the fans worried that a change of system would be in the offing, so it was a welcome sight to see them on the team sheet. The same can be said for the fact that Adam Le Fondre was fit enough to take his place on the bench against his former club after injury, though many would have preferred to see him start.
The game began with Wanderers putting early pressure on Reading goalkeeper, Anssi Jaakkola, who was making his first appearance in the league for them and it very nearly paid off when he passed the ball straight to Gary Madine who would surely have scored had his first touch been better. Unfortunately, the ‘keeper was able to dive on the loose ball just in time. The problem Reading were encountering was that they were forced to pass the ball around at the back in order to build attacks given the small stature of their forwards thus Jaakkola was often in the firing line of Josh Vela and Madine in the first 10 minutes. Wanderers’ cause was helped by a hamstring injury sustained by former Brentford loanee, John Swift, who had to be replaced early on.
The most entertaining moment of the early exchanges, however, was a clash between Leandro Bacuna and Darren Pratley where the Bolton skipper outmuscled the Dutchman and he went sprawling to the floor claiming an elbow had been thrown. While Bacuna and former Bolton trialist, Mo Barrow, tried to start a fight with Pratley, the Reading backroom staff did the same with Phil Parkinson. Thankfully once everything calmed down, Bolton began to take control and were given a great chance to score from a free kick by the corner flag.
Vela whipped in the cross and after a Pratley flick-on, Burke headed home with Jaakkola merely watching it go past him. It looked like a well-executed training ground move and Burke looked delighted with the goal. The Whites carried on their momentum with Sammy Ameobi, who had begun the match quietly, beating his man and seeing a deflected shot go wide for a corner. Based on the on the way Reading had defended the last ball into the box there was optimism in the air and this was justified as an unmarked Pratley powered his header into the corner for 2-0. It was no more than Bolton deserved and prompted chants of “We are staying up!” from the Crazy Corner.
It should have been 3-0 moments later as Adam Armstrong chased a loose ball and set Ameobi away down the right with a very clever back-heel, only for the big man to forget how to pass a ball and see the opportunity fade away when a simple pass would have seen the Newcastle loanee through on goal.
At this point, the tide started to turn and Reading created a few good chances from set-pieces themselves with Barrow and Moore going close just as Half-Time approached. All in all things were looking positive but what was to come was the polar opposite of the first half we had all witnessed. As the second half began Dave Edwards headed narrowly over from a Chris Gunter cross and Sone Aluko forced Ben Alnwick into a great save down to his right from distance.
The former Hull and Fulham man was causing problems down the right and easily beat Armstrong for strength before forcing Alnwick to palm away his dangerous cross. Then followed a very quiet period where, to the Bolton faithful’s relief, it appeared the Reading onslaught had abated with only a pot-shot from Bacuna that went miles over to speak of. In order to change the game Jaap Stam brought on Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Liam Kelly for Beerens and Blackett with the changes immediately paying dividends in the 76th minute. Kelly fed Barrow down the right into the space vacated by Antonee Robinson, thus with nobody to challenge, he had time to pick out Liam Moore to score from 6 yards out. Game on.
Phil Parkinson made his first change of the game at this point with Will Buckley replacing Armstrong, who in truth HAD DONE very little. Reading had renewed belief and got reward for their pressure when Barrow ran at Mark Little and felt an arm on his back from Ameobi. The triple-salchow that followed convinced the referee to award a penalty. To make matters worse, the taker was “pariah for the night” Bacuna and he sent Alnwick the wrong way to level the scores. Wanderers could have gone ahead almost immediately with Ameobi trying to make amends, seeing a long-range shot go narrowly wide but a change was certainly needed.
Parkinson threw on Craig Noone and Le Fondre in an effort to nick the game and they had an immediate impact. Le Fondre held up the ball and teed up Little to strike at goal with it being deflected wide. Noone whipped in the resulting corner and in an almost carbon-copy fashion, Pratley found himself unmarked to head at goal. This time Jaakkola was equal to it. There was still time for Robinson to whip in a good cross that Le Fondre turned goalward but the Reading ‘keeper stood firm and earned his side a point.
It was hugely frustrating to see Bolton come away yet again with a point despite leading for long periods and if we are to stay up we simply cannot throw leads away like this. I’m not sure who is to blame but this habit we have gotten into of sitting back and trying to hold a lead is Megson-esque and needs to stop. Onto Wolves on Saturday where I would take a point now but if we do take the lead by some miracle, we cannot just stop playing the way we did in this game. COYWM